During their 1984-85 tour of India, David Gower's Englishmen lost first by an innings to the Under-25 side before going down in the first Test by eight wickets. This was after a unique `blackwash' at home against West Indies in the summer. The side was hastily branded as the weakest English team to visit the sub-continent and only the margin of the Indian victory in the series was being debated. By the end of the five match series though, England had astonishingly won the contest by two matches to one, becoming the only team to come from behind to win a Test series in India - a honour they retain even now.
In the first place, there was a sense of complacency in the Indian ranks. This was something that Sunil Gavaskar's team, 17 years ago, were also guilty of and they paid the price. The Indian squad this time was luckier in that they did not pay the ultimate price. But this overconfident attitude has allowed the visitors to come back into the series.
Memories of what happened 17 years ago come to mind now after England had the slight edge in the exchanges in the drawn second Test at Ahmedabad. After all, they did gain a sizeable first innings lead of 116 runs and frequently put India under pressure, even to the extent of setting the home team a formidable target of 374 in the fourth innings.
This, coming from a rag tag outfit that had lost the first Test at Mohali only a week ago by ten wickets in four days, must be regarded as a commendable feat. Indeed, going into the final day, England looked the only team with a chance of victory after dominating the game for long periods over the four days preceding it. Hopes of a second successive clean sweep over England in this country have now vanished and the series remains alive, which may be the best thing to happen to what initially appeared to be a lop sided contest.
How did this transformation come about? How did a side, branded the weakest English team to come to India, come up with the kind of heart-warming performance that moved Nasser Hussain to say, "We have got a lot of belief in our team and this was an exceptional effort"?
After all, the players were much the same, and if anything, the home team had been strengthened by the inclusion of Javagal Srinath and Virender Sehwag. The answers to these questions are not hard to find.
In the first place, there was a sense of complacency in the Indian ranks. This was something that Sunil Gavaskar's team, 17 years ago, were also guilty of and they paid the price. The Indian squad this time was luckier in that they did not pay the ultimate price. But this overconfident attitude has allowed the visitors to come back into the series. The Indians were guilty of a lot of poor cricket. The fielding was sub-standard, the catching abysmal and there was a touch of indiscipline in the batting and the bowling.
That said, one must credit the Englishmen with learning from the mistakes they made at Mohali. There was no doubt that the batsmen tackled the spinners in a more positive manner. Mark Butcher, Marcus Trescothick, Craig White and Nasser Hussain were ready to attack the bowling instead of being content with just playing from the crease. The bowlers, like they did at Mohali, again stuck to their plan and if they performed better, it was also because the fielding standards were a notch higher. Ashley Giles showed that he could be a tricky customer. Hussain, as he did in the first Test, put the Indian batsmen under pressure with his 7-2 offside field. Sachin Tendulkar got away with some innovative strokes on the leg side but the others were found wanting. There be no doubt, Hussain is a thinking captain, who relies much on strategy and tactical moves. But unlike at Mohali, the captain this time was not let down by his batsmen and bowlers. Indeed, so rejuvenated were the squad that they even made light of Graham Thorpe's last minute withdrawal.
The Indians finally drew the match comfortably, thanks to Tendulkar and Laxman, Kumble and Harbhajan and, Das and Dasgupta, to keep their lead in a series that they cannot now lose. There is little doubt that India is the stronger outfit but the problem is they are not playing up to potential. They can redeem their reputation, slightly dented by events at Ahmedabad, by winning at Bangalore and for this, the return of Sarandeep Singh is a must. Three spin bowlers on a pitch likely to aid turn and bounce, will not only be an attacking move but could also be a winning combination. If that means dropping a batsman, so be it. After all, isn't it better to win a series 2-0 rather than 1-0? But then the selectors may adopt the safe approach and reckon that a 1-0 victory is better than sharing a series 1-1.